Trail Blazers-Mavericks Preview

Dirk Nowitzki was a free agent last summer, unshackled from the

Dallas Mavericks for the first time in his career. It was his

chance to escape a franchise with a long track record of winning

big in the regular season and losing painfully in the

postseason.

The former MVP signed up for four more years because he wanted

to turn around that reputation.

Just a week into the playoffs, the Mavs are in jeopardy of

adding to it.

Dallas went to Portland with the chance to pull off a sweep, but

returned home licking its wounds following one of the most

humiliating losses of the NBA’s shot-clock era. The Mavericks spit

up a 23-point lead with 13 minutes left to lose Game 4 and knot the

series at 2-2.

Game 5 is in Dallas on Monday night. A return trip to Portland

is already set for Game 6 on Thursday night.

”Frustration is definitely at a high level,” Nowitzki said.

”There is a huge difference from being up 3-1 and 2-2. This is

definitely up there with the most frustrating losses.”

In Nowitzki’s collection of most frustrating losses, nothing can

top blowing a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead while up 2-0 in the

2006 NBA finals against the Miami Heat. This one is in the

ballpark, though.

Up 2-0 for the first time since that infamous series, the

Mavericks were halfway to only their second series win since then.

They had the chance to sweep the Trail Blazers, or to return home

with a chance to knock ’em out. By losing both games, this

title-starved collection of veterans in their 30s guaranteed

themselves at least two more games in a series that keeps getting

more physical, plus another round-trip flight to the Pacific

Northwest.

And, of course, the immediate concern is getting over what Jason

Kidd called ”one of the toughest losses I’ve ever been involved

in.”

”But we can still win the series, and that’s where our focus

has to be,” Kidd said. ”We have to stay together and get home and

come out Monday with the same focus and intensity as we did today.

Then we just have to finish.”

The Mavs flew home after Game 4 on Saturday. They didn’t

practice Sunday.

The biggest thing going for them is that Game 5 is in Dallas,

and so would a Game 7. The home team has won all four games this

series – just like the home team won all four games during the

regular-season series.

”Game 5 is the pivotal game,” Blazers forward Gerald Wallace

said. ”The advantage is tilted their way because they’re at home.

But we’ve got the momentum on the court.”

Portland’s momentum includes a rejuvenated Brandon Roy.

Roy left Dallas wondering about his career and his role on the

Blazers. He hardly played in Game 2 and didn’t score. He was so low

in the rotation that he said he was nearly in tears on the bench.

He picked things up in Game 3, then was the star of Game 4, scoring

18 points in the series-shifting fourth quarter, including the

winning basket in the final minute.

”He helped us in Game 3, and people doubted if he could do it

again,” Portland center Marcus Camby said. ”He proved a lot of

people wrong. He’s got a lot of game left.”

Maybe there’s a lesson there for Dallas.

Roy said he regained his confidence and his shooting touch with

the support of friends and family. He won the fans back with a few

more jumpers. If the Mavericks can get the same kind of backing,

maybe they can turn things back in their favor.

After all, they did dominate the first three quarters of Game 4.

It’s just the last one they need to clean up.

”We just have to stay positive,” Nowitzki said. ”Two out of

three we’re at home, where our crowd has really carried us,

especially in the fourth quarter in the two wins that we got. This

is going to sting; this is going to hurt, but we worked hard all

through the regular season to get those two at home.”

Dallas’ sketchy playoff history includes a 2003 matchup against

Portland that played out somewhat similarly to this series.

The Mavericks jumped ahead 3-0, then the Blazers won the next

three. Game 7 was in Dallas and the Mavs pulled it out. Portland

hasn’t won a playoff series since; its drought actually stretches

to 2000.

”As each game goes on, it becomes the biggest game of the

series,” Camby said. ”Neither team has been able to win on the

other team’s home court. I know they’re thinking the same thing.

They don’t want another collapse like they did in the finals

against Miami.”

AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson in Portland, Ore.,

contributed.